Break the Ice In the days when American commerce depended largely on rivers, winter s ice caused a lot of problems. Frozen rivers could trap even the largest ships carrying goods into major cities, and people knew that business wouldn t get back to full throttle until the ice was broken.


During the Civil War, prison camps had rails that ran a specified perimeter. Guards had orders to shoot on sight, and without question or warning, any prisoner who crossed that line (the deadline). Most notably, this was the case at Camp Douglas, a prison for Confederate POWs in Chicago, Ill.

(Runs a) tight ship: The sea vessels of the old days depended on wind, and harnessing that power required sails that could capture it. Ropes that were too loose would cause the sails to flap limply in the wind (known in nautical circles as luffing ).

Jerry Built (also Jerry Rigged) '

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, cigars were common prizes awarded in games at fairs and carnivals. Let s say you had to pop five balloons with a pellet gun at 20 feet. Alas! You only hit four. You were close, but there'll be no cigar for you. Today, this phrase refers to any near victory, otherwise known as a loss. "Your horseshoe toss landed just shy of the spike.

In the days before anesthesia, battlefield surgeons would often provide their patients with something on which to bite as a meager way of coping with the excruciating pain. This implement may have been a leather strap or a wooden stick.

This phrase finds its origins in the sport of boxing. Quite simply, if a fighter reaches the point where he has taken more punches than he can stand, those in his corner can stop the fight by throwing a towel into the ring. In modern parlance, the phrase has come to signify the concession of defeat in almost any circumstance. "I can't argue any more.

Few tools were more reliable for a medieval soldier than his trusty broadsword. Despite its heavy, double-edged blade, the tip, otherwise known as the "foible," was the sword's weakest part. In time, the term came to refer to human weakness, which is its most common use today. "Though a great leader, greed was one of King Midas's many foibles."